New names set to emerge in Valley District Volleyball

High school sports are cyclical by nature.

Every year there is a group of seniors that graduates and in their place, younger players are asked to step up and emerge.

Some years the seniors are harder to replace than others, and that is the case across the Valley District for the 2017 volleyball season.

The five first-team all-district honorees from city/county schools were all seniors as were three of the five players who earned second-team plaudits.

Three city/county seniors will play Division II volleyball this fall, making the class of 2017 a difficult group to replace.

“It’s going to be a challenge for us,” said 18th-year Spotswood volleyball coach Jim Roth, whose Trailblazers lost seven seniors off last year’s team. “We hate to lose players, but that’s why you have a good program. From our middle school on up, we always try to churn out good players. We take what we have every year and do the best that we can.”

That will certainly be tested at Spotswood. Among the seven seniors the Trailblazers lost were three all-district performers and Virginia-Wise freshman Savannah Turner, who missed most of last season with a torn ACL.

Spotswood opened its season Tuesday at East Rockingham with just one senior on the roster — outside hitter Lauren Fridley.

The Trailblazers return three others from last year — libero Macie Clements, outside hitter Sarah Gardner and setter Morgan Sterling — and Roth said all four of his returning players have shown good leadership skills so far.

The coach added he has been impressed by the cohesiveness of his team and the dedication the players have shown to improvement.

“I like the work ethic of my team right now,” Roth said. “They want to be successful and they’re doing what it takes right now on the practice courts.”

At Turner Ashby, 21st-year coach Gina Troyer has just two seniors on her roster, including outside hitter Sarah Phillips, the only returning All-Valley District performer from the city/county schools. The Knights, who open the season Thursday against Sherando at 7:30 p.m. in Bridgewater, were one win away from the state tournament last year.

With both Spotswood and TA replacing large groups of seniors, Broadway volleyball coach Jason Ritchie said he thinks the district will be wide open this year.

“We feel like TA graduated a lot of kids; Spotswood graduated a lot of kids and it’s anybody’s ballgame this year,” Ritchie said.

Ritchie said he is comfortable with the core of Broadway’s attack led by seniors Asha Beck and Andrea Troyer. Beck tallied 436 assists last season for the Gobblers and Troyer registered 156 kills a year ago.

The pair is the nucleus of a group that Ritchie said is unselfish and responding well to his coaching.

“We’re excited about the season, we’re excited about the girls and the improvement they’ve made already,” said Ritchie.The Valley District tournament makes a reappearance for the first time in four years thanks to the Virginia High School League eliminating conferences in its latest realignment plan that takes effect this year.

The Valley District will send three teams to the Class 3 Region C tournament at the end of October — its regular-season champion and two others that will be determined by the tournament, which will not include Class 5 Harrisonburg. The Blue Streaks automatically qualify for the Class 5 Region D tournament, a region split into North and South divisions. Harrisonburg will participate in the South. If the Valley District’s regular-season champion does not make the tournament final, both fi-nalists will qualify for the regional tournament. If the regular-season winner does make the final, a consolation match will be played for the third spot.

Ritchie and Roth both said the change is good because it was hard on teams to be facing opponents for the first time in the conference tournament.

Roth said the competition in the Valley has matured over the past 10 years, which should make the district tournament exciting.

“It seems like there’s always a team from the area that’s moving on in the playoffs,” Roth said. “So I’m excited to see the level of competition that’s in this area.”

Ritchie said his players sense that the postseason is more reachable this season under the new format, but cautioned that his team still had a long way to go to fulfill those expectations.

“I really do think that it makes the possibility of playing in the postseason a little bit more of a reality,” Ritchie said. “At this stage in the ballgame, we have personal goals, we have team goals and we’re working on being better for our program first. Wherever we are at the end of October will decide what we need to do to continue our season then.”

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